|In the News: Victims Beg Accused Minister’s Backers for “sensitivity”
Seth H. Langson
September 24, 2010
A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging backers of a prominent Atlanta minister being sued for alleged sexual misconduct to be “open-minded and sensitive” and avoid “attacking” his accusers.
Leaders of a Chicago-based self help group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing to some staff and members at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church with advice on what the organization calls “the compassionate and appropriate ways” to respond to charges that Pastor Eddie Long sexually exploited three young congregants.
“It’s crucial that church members support Long privately, not publicly, to avoid creating a hostile, frightening atmosphere that deters other crime victims of other predators from speaking up,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director. “Those who love an accused minister often publicly say things intending to support their church’s pastor but that end up hurting the church’s kids.”
SNAP is asking New Birth church-goers and employees to read and circulate a document called “What to do when your pastor is accused.” It’s posted on the group’s website, SNAPnetwork.org, and lists 21 suggestions on how congregants can express concern for an alleged predator without inflicting more suffering on those who have been or are being sexually victimized.
“You may want to publicly defend a priest, collect funds for the minister's defense, or take similar steps. Please don't. Express your appreciation of the minister in a direct, quiet ways,” reads one of SNAP’s suggestions. “Even if the minister is innocent, somewhere in the church is a young girl who is being molested by a relative or a boy being abused by his coach. If these children see adults they love and respect publicly rallying around accused perpetrators, they will be less likely to report their own victimization to their parents, the police, or other authorities. They will be scared into remaining silent, and their horrific pain will continue.”
The organization emphasizes that their guidelines for congregants hold true no matter whether Long is ultimately found guilty or innocent.
“In a church as large as New Birth, there are likely a dozens of kids who have been or are being molested by step dads, teachers or scout leaders,” Clohessy emphasized. “Some are teens, wondering whether they should tell someone about what they’re going through. Often, their perpetrator tells them ‘Don’t even try speaking up. Everyone will believe me, not you.’ So if they see folks at their church taking the side of an accused abuser, they stay silent, figuring ‘What’s the use of disclosing?’”
SNAP also maintains that most predatory preachers are widely-respected and well-loved, and that’s one way they gain control over vulnerable congregants.
“Predators are often powerful, charismatic and well-loved. It would be comforting if those who preyed on the vulnerable were obvious social misfits whose appearance would somehow set off alarm bells and give us ‘the willies’ or ‘the creeps.’ They rarely do,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP’s Outreach Director.
“Usually, predators are among the last people we would suspect of sexually violating others. At a party, the predator isn’t some oddball sitting alone in a corner because others feel uncomfortable with him. Most often, the predator is the guy throwing the party.”
“We must overcome the dangerous myth that because someone is successful or warm or caring, he or she ‘couldn’t have done that!’” Dorris said.
"If anyone has information about misconduct by Long, he or she needs to contact police right away," Clohessy stressed. “To hide their wrongdoing, often predators misappropriate funds, destroy evidence, intimidate witnesses or threaten whistleblowers, harassed staff, perjure themselves or deceive law enforcement. Sometimes, these behaviors can be prosecuted. Remember that Al Capone was nailed for income tax evasion.”
A copy of SNAP's letter is available upon request.
David Clohessy 314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
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